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Nutritional Neuroscience

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Foods and our moods as we age

Are you guilty of reaching for a bar of rich, creamy and dark chocolate to help lift your mood? While that may work – temporarily – a recent study shows that attitude adjusting and stress relieving foods may change as we get older. Findings suggest that the foods that helped improve our moods when we were younger may in fact change over time.

Researchers at the University of Binghamton, NY conducted an online survey and asked 563 participants to complete a Food-Mood Questionnaire as well as questions to better understand their diet, dietary practices and exercise patterns.

The difference between young adults (18-29) and older adults (30+) was clear. The moods of young adults were found to be more dependent on the presence of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Regular exercise and protein rich foods lead to higher levels of these mood enhancing brain chemicals. According to the survey, those who ate chicken or beef less than three times per week and exercised infrequently had more mental distress. Those who ate more protein rich foods and exercised more than three days per week were found to have less stress and report better moods.

Stress in adults over 30 years old was managed differently with food. They were found to be more sensitive to the presence of antioxidants as well as foods that trigger the fight or flight/stress response.  It’s known that with aging, there is a need for antioxidants to manage stress causing free radical buildup. So it’s no surprise that in addition to antioxidant rich meals, avoiding foods like simple carbs and coffee that simulate the body’s stress response also helped improve mood in older adults.

The bottom line is that you can’t go wrong with a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of lean proteins and antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables.

Published June 1, 2018

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